Anton Bruckner, j'accuse! Oh sure, your Te Deum's very nice. But don't you think a BIG alto solo would make it even nicer? No? Well that's a shame.
Yes, we had Bruckner's Te Deum at Knox Church last night, part of a concert called 'Autumn Tones' (I didn't hear the autumn tones, but maybe that's just me). And it was fine. I mean, my heart's still in the 18th century (or earlier) when it comes to sacred music, but things like this have their appeal too. The City of Dunedin choir was sounding very good, as ever. Although I did feel sorry for them, packed into a space half as small (if not smaller) than they have for their Town Hall gigs. And sitting in the front row as I was, I did feel a little close for comfort at times. But nevertheless, excellent choir, etc. etc.
You know me though, and you know I was there for the soloists. And such a lineup: Goeknil Meryem Biner (soprano), Brigitte Heuser (alto), Stephen Chambers (tenor) & Michael Gray (bass). The tenor gets plenty to sing, and I'm happy to say this is some of the best singing I've heard from Stephen lately. Perhaps it was because he had to make himself heard over choir and orchestra, not just a piano, but for once it seemed that there was some fire in that voice - it wasn't just nice singing, but interesting singing. Very nice to hear. As for Michael, all I can say is: wow. I thought perhaps the bass was going to be as slighted as the alto in terms of a proper solo, but thankfully he wasn't, and Michael was quite incredible. What of the girls? I wasn't, I have to say, particularly impressed by our soprano, Goeknil Meryem Biner. Ever since her too-brief appearance in Anthony Ritchie's The God Boy last year, I've been wanting to hear more from her, to get a proper sense of the voice: but I think (or hope) that this wasn't the right occasion. It wasn't that she made a bad sound - far from it - but it just seemed the wrong sound, somehow. Too much vibrato, and just plain too loud. Maybe it was the acoustic. I don't know. But when the soloists all sang together, it was inevitably her voice which pushed its way to the front - and although I'd never heard the piece before last night, I've a feeling that's not quite the way it ought to sound. Besides which, she kept just about drowning out our fabulous alto! Who, unlike the other three, never once got to sing all by herself. And oh, how I wish she had. I've been longing and longing to hear Brigitte Heuser sing again, ever since last year's vocal competitions where she just blew me away. This is seriously a star mezzo in the making, and what I did hear of her last night was as delectable as I'd hoped. But it was still just a tiny tantalising taste, and I want more. In the words of the divine Maria von Trapp, "Brigitte I don't know about yet, but somebody has to find out about her." Well I'd like to find out, and soon.
So. The highlight of the concert should have been Brigitte but wasn't. Which leads us to a very surprising turn of events: the highlight of the night for me was not vocal at all, but rather the orchestral piece that started the evening. Strange enough in itself, and even more so because the piece was Douglas Lilburn's 1940 'Aotearoa Overture'. 20th century...New Zealand...orchestral music...and I loved it! Well done to the Dunedin Youth Orchestra. If only Delibes Coppélia Suite which followed had been replaced by more of this sort of thing. So much more interesting. (I wonder if taking myself to the orchestra counts for TAFTO?)